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The Complete Guide to Augmented Reality and Its Use in Business

Augmented Reality (AR) has the potential to change how we work but also how we think about business, too. The growth in the field of AR provides a wide range of beneficial tools that can help with various daily activities – from filtering social media feeds to supporting construction engineers with 3D modeling to assisting medical professionals with surgery and diagnosis. Augmented reality melds the real and virtual world, enhancing our perception and altering what we hear, see, and hear. It creates a symphonious harmony between the real and the virtual.

Augmented and virtual reality are emerging technologies that are still going through a novelty phase. With a new generation of software and hardware applications aimed at businesses and end users like you, these technologies are beginning to show signs of real-world usefulness.

What is augmented reality? What is the difference between augmented and virtual reality? What are AR’s key capabilities? How can businesses use AR? How can your business begin to use it? We have created the ultimate guide to augmented reality and its use in business to answer all these questions and provide a thorough knowledge of what AR is, how it works, and the potential impact it can have on your business.

What is Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality technology is virtually new, meaning that it hasn’t reached its full potential. Many of its uses are yet to be discovered because there are numerous ways in which the overlay of digital content on the real world could be useful, lucrative, and practical. Augmented reality is considered to be any technology that allows us to see digital information projected on the real world (such as the heads-up displays you may have seen in science fiction movies). The Pokémon Go smartphone game that projects digital creatures onto the world around you is an example of AR in the real world. Many smartphone apps have made use of AR via embedded cameras, Google Maps has added features that show directions on the physical world, and Ikea has created an app that allows you to scan a room and design the space by placing Ikea furniture in the digital image of your space.

With advanced hardware, such as Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens, AR can be a lot more practical than smartphone apps. They provide an immersive, hands-free augmented reality that can be used in a wide range of educational, commercial, and business uses.

Typically, AR devices are controlled by touch-sensitive pads or voice commands. As a user taps or swipes the screen, touchpads sense pressure change. Also, these devices identify voice commands thanks to the miniature microphones that pick up soundwaves and interpret them via a microprocessor.

Augmented and Virtual Reality – What’s the Difference?

Unlike augmented reality, virtual reality blocks out the real world by replacing it with a completely artificial and digital world. AR lets the real-world show through but projects digital information or objects on top of it.

Virtual reality (VR) technology provides a complete sensory immersion in a purely digital and virtual world. VR technology, such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, allows us to enter a virtual realm, bringing a complete change in everything we perceive. You can become anything from a Disney character to an intergalactic traveler visiting another planet to a Navy SEAL on a dangerous mission.

Types of Augmented Reality Systems

There are several types of AR technology, and each of them provides a unique augmented reality experience for objectives and applications.

  • Projection-based AR. This AR technology allows for interaction between the user and the light component by sensing touch. It projects artificial light sources onto solid surfaces – when the user interacts with the light, the system notices the alteration and detects the contact in the augmented field. Projection-based AR can also create projections of 3D holograms by using laser-plasma technology.

  • Marker-based AR. These systems use a camera and a visual marker to generate an augmented effect. Also known as image recognition AR, these apps assist a device in recognizing simple patterns and don’t require much processing power to identify an image (such as QR codes).

  • Markerless AR. Probably the most commonly applied use of AR technology. Also known as location-based or GPS, these AR apps use devices with an embedded velocity meter or GPS to generate location data. These systems are available in tablets and smartphones and assist us in generating map directions and finding nearby business locations.

  • Superimposition-based AR. These applications can either fully or partially alter the real-world view with an augmented view. To execute their function, superimposition-based AR tech requires object recognition. Social apps (e.g., Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Messenger) are examples of augmented reality mobile app design. Users can overlay 3D animated masks on their faces that are remarkably accurate in detecting facial features.

What are the Key Capabilities of Augmented Reality Technology?

With the increased use and ubiquity of Smart Connected Products (SCPs) through our homes and workplaces, they allow users to optimize product performance, customize and control product operations remotely, and monitor product conditions and operations in real-time. In some cases, connectivity and intelligence allow SCPs to be completely autonomous. All these capabilities create a certain value that AR applications can powerfully magnify by improving how we interact with products themselves, receive and follow guidance on operations, and visualize and access monitoring data.

  • Interaction

People have used knobs, buttons, and touchscreens to interact with products. With the rise of smart connected products, mobile apps have replaced physical controls and allowed users to operate them remotely. With AR, the user interface has gone to another level – users get a virtual control panel that is superimposed on the product, and can operate them using an AR headset, voice commands, and hand gestures. For example, personnel wearing smart glasses can walk beside a line of machines, monitor their performance parameters, and make adjustments without touching them.

  • Guide and instruct

Instruction, coaching, and training are all critical functions that aim to improve productivity in the workplace, and AR is already redefining them. For example, standard instructional videos cannot adapt to individual learning requirements and are not interactive. Written instructions can be time-consuming and difficult to follow. In-person training requires instructors and students to repeatedly meet at a common site and is expensive. Augmented reality can address those problems by providing on-site, real-time, and step-by-step guidance on complex tasks, such as warehouse picking, machine operation, and product assembly. Instead of a complicated written instruction or 2D schematic representation of a procedure, workers can get a 3D hologram that walks them through the process, leaving nothing to interpretation or imagination.

  • Visualize

The visualization feature of AR technology is there to reveal internal features that would be difficult or impossible to see otherwise. For example, AR-enhanced visualization can be used for demonstrating the capabilities and product designs of smart, connected, and complex products, allowing customers to see 3D representations of their internal parts and how they connect together.

How Can Your Business Use Augmented Reality?

According to Global Market Insights, the augmented reality market is projected to cross $50 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of more than 75% from 2017 to 2024. The market growth is most likely to be led by the biggest names that have been at the forefront of developing AR applications, including Microsoft, HTC, Samsung, and Google. Companies that want to gain a cutting edge need to consider where AR could fit in their organizations because, as time goes on, AR technology is going to be increasingly important.

When deciding if AR is for you, there are two main areas you should think about:

  • Potential for internal use (to help your workforce)

  • Commercial applicability for consumers

Here are some ways that companies can use augmented reality:

  • Education and training. Educational applications of AR can be experienced with hardware as simple as a smartphone. Furthermore, there are advanced apps for augmented reality headsets that can go further in-depth to provide a more advanced educational experience (like Microsoft’s HoloLens AR tech). Being able to see complex machines working from the inside and getting 3D representations of all parts are ways in which AR can be used for educational purposes. As for training, new employees need time to learn about the way systems work. With AR, they don’t need to do it in the real world because they get access to virtual training experiences.

  • Manufacturing. Manufacturing processes are often complex. They require hundreds of steps while making mistakes can be very costly. AR technology can deliver the right information at the right moment, which can enhance efficiency, reduce errors, and improve productivity. They can capture real-time data from control and automation systems, asset management systems, and secondary sensors, making important diagnostic and monitoring data about each process or machine visible. The data can help workers understand issues and prompt them to do proactive maintenance that may prevent operational downtime.

  • Marketing and sales. AR applications can allow online shoppers to download 3D holograms of the products they want to purchase. In sales and marketing, AR technology is expected to redefine the concept of product demonstrations and showrooms to transform the customer experience. Customers can have more confidence in their purchase decisions, more accurate expectations, and greater product satisfaction when they can see how a product will function or look in a real setting before buying them. AR is especially valuable as a digital marketing tool when products can be configured with different options and features, which can make them costly and difficult to stock.

  • 3D modeling. AR apps can import and display CAD files in real space, allowing us to see 3D models of products such as houses, cars, etc. Computer-aided design (CAD) capabilities have been used for the last 30 years, allowing engineers to create 3D models. However, they’ve been limited to interacting with the models through 2D computer screens. AR allows them to fully conceptualize their designs because the 3D models can now be superimposed as holograms. The technology enhances engineers’ ability to evaluate their designs and improve them.

  • Logistics. The logistics giants, such as DHL and numerous other companies, are relying on AR to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of the picking progress. About 20% of all logistics cost is accounted for warehouse operations, and about 65% of all warehouse costs are from picking items from shelves. Many warehouse workers perform these tasks by using a paper list of items to collect and then searching for them in the warehouse. Instead of relying on this error-prone and slow method, workers can use AR instructions to direct them and suggest the best route to the location of each item.

  • Remote support. AR apps that allow people to communicate in real-time are on the rise. For example, when a user needs assistance in repair, there are apps that allow tech support technicians to highlight objects in the user’s field of view. With AR headsets being connected to IoT sensors and other diagnostic information, technicians can assess repair needs and reduce downtime.

This is far from a comprehensive list of uses of augmented reality in business. But as time passes, all the uses will most likely evolve into realms we have not thought of yet. Whatever the type of business you are in, there is probably a use case for AR technologies, you just have to figure out what it is.

What Technology Do I Need to Use Augmented Reality?

There are AR apps available to be used in a business role. For example, Measure is a built-in iOS app that uses spatial awareness and a device’s camera to act as a level, measure rooms, and determine the size of objects. If your business requires you to measure spaces, this app can be beneficial. Google’s Just a Line is an app that allows users to draw in 3D space and lets other people view your drawings in real-time. However, these are simple apps that only you a taste of practical use for augmented reality. If you want to utilize augmented reality technologies to their fullest potential (as an internal business tool), you will need advanced hardware that’s designed for business AR uses and that you can operate hands-free. It is all about finding the right tools that can benefit your business and fit your needs and budget.

After you have identified how AR can benefit your business, you should figure out your approach. Should you go with a smartphone-powered AR (more affordable option) or hardware like Google Glass or HoloLens.

Next, you should pick a platform. If you are going with the smartphone-powered option, you can choose between Google and Apple (depends on which appeals to your employees or customers). If you’re investing in hardware, there are several options, including Magic Leap, Google Glass, and Microsoft HoloLens.

Furthermore, you will need augmented reality developers to build the AR app. The skills of your developer team will definitely influence your decision of which hardware and/or platform to go with.

What are the Most Popular AR Platforms?

When discussing AR platforms, it is important to distinguish between AR programming languages and development kits most often used for developing this kind of software. AR development kits include software like Google’s ARCore, Apple's ARKit, Reality Composer, and RealityKit, and other kits designed for AR on consumer-grade hardware (such as smartphones). On the other hand, Microsoft’s HoloLens relies more on general Windows development skills and less on self-contained development kits. The HoloLens hardware comes equipped with a lot more functionality, which makes it more complicated when it comes to developing apps for it. Microsoft calls it a mixed reality and developing apps for it uses the same SDK programmers for other Windows software developments.

As for AR programming languages, the list includes Swift, Visual development tools, Python, JavaScript, Java, C/C++, and C#. When hiring programmers for your AR project, make sure to hire professionals skilled in these languages.

Between the digital information available to use and the real, physical world in which we apply it lies a gap or a fundamental disconnect. Our reality is multidimensional, while the information we have to inform our actions and decisions remains trapped on 2D screens. That limits our ability to take advantage of that valuable information produced by billions of SCPs worldwide. What promises to close that gap and release untapped human capabilities is Augmented Reality (AR).

Augmented reality is poised to enter the mainstream. It will affect businesses, non-profits, and other types of organizations in every industry (from social enterprises to universities). It will change how companies design, develop and create products, train employees, manage their value chains, serve customers, and how they compete on the market.

We hope this comprehensive guide has helped you understand the value of AR and its growing importance. As Smart Connected Products ((CPs) proliferate, the significance of AR will grow exponentially because it amplifies the power of SCPs to create more value and reshape competition. By bridging the gap between digital and physical worlds, AR is believed to become the interface between machines and humans. Being driven by computer vision algorithms, it is thought that it can be done more by layering Machine Learning (ML) systems on top of the core AR technology.

With the machine learning and artificial intelligence elements AI is enabling the shift to more realistic and engaging experiences and more powerful personalization., the range of potential use cases of AR can be expanded tremendously. There are numerous uses for augmented and mixed reality in business. It is up to you to choose what to do with it. The sky is the limit, and AR could lead you to a big business breakthrough you need to grow.

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